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Turkey's national team relishing Euro 2024 'home' tournament

June 18, 2024

Turkey is feeling at home at the UEFA Euro 2024. Not only can the team count on strong support from Germany's large Turkish diaspora, many of the players were born in Germany.

Hakan Calhanoglu and Salih Özcan celebrate a Turkish goal
Hakan Calhanoglu and Salih Özcan are among the German-born players on Turkey's national teamImage: Seskimphoto/Avalon/Photoshot/picture alliance

For Salih Özcan, Turkey's opening Euro 2024 match against Georgia in Dortmund will be a home game in more ways than one. Not only does the 26-year-old play his club football for Borussia Dortmund, but he was born in Cologne, around 100 kilometers (62 miles) to the southwest.

Not just that, but Turkish fans are expected to be in the overwhelming majority in the stadium.

"The south stand (known as the yellow wall for Borussia Dortmund matches) is also well-known in Turkey," the Dortmund player told a the pre-match press conference.

At the same time, he warned that playing in the Westfalenstadion could prove to be a daunting task for some.

"Most of my teammates are not familiar with playing in front of 80,000 spectators on a regular basis. They'll be a bit taken aback."

2.9 million-strong Turkish diaspora in Germany

Due to UEFA rules, just 60,000 spectators will be allowed into the stadium for Tuesday's contest – most of whom can be expected to support Turkey. According to the Federal Statistical Office, around 1.54 million Turks resided in Germany in 2023. According to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), there are also around 1.4 million German citizens with Turkish roots.

Özcan played for Germany from the under-15 to under-21 levels, winning the European U21 championshp in 2021 alongside current Germany players Florian Wirtz and Nico Schlotterbeck. However, in March 2022 he made the decision to play his senior international football for Turkey, the home of his parents – a choice Özcan said came only after "many discussions with family members."

Choosing Turkey over Germany

Several other members of Turkey's Euro 2024 squad had to make a similar decision. Galatasaray right back Kaan Ayhan was born in Gelsenkirchen in 1994, and also played for Germany at youth levels.

Juventus midfielder Kenan Yildiz was born in Regensburg to a Turkish father and a German mother. He also turned out for Germany at youth levels before switching to Turkey just last year.

Florian Wirtz and Salih Ozcan celebrate a goal for Germany's U21 side
Salih Ozcan (second from left) represented Germany up to the U21 levelImage: Istvan Derencsenyi/Orange Pictures/BEAUTIFUL SPORTS/picture alliance

Cenk Tosun of Besiktas opted for Turkey after representing Germany from the U16 to U21 levels.

However, the best-known Turkish national team player from Germany is the captain, Mannheim native Hakan Calhanoglu, who plies his trade for Serie A champions Inter Milan

Faced with a similar decision, current Germany players Ilkay Gündogan, Deniz Undav and Emre Can chose the country of their birth instead.

Blessing and a curse

Even before the tournament began, the support for the Turkish national team in Germany was palpable. Around 2,500 fans turned out for their public training session at the team's base for the tournament near Hanover.

This support, combined with high expectations, can serve as a blessing. but also as a curse for Italian coach Vincenzo Montella's men. His task: to strike the right emotional balance that will allow his players to utilize the positive energy that stems from the support while, at the same time, ensuring that the pressure to succeed from the Turkish fans and media doesn't wind up paralyzing them. 

How strong is this Turkish team?

The word to describe their recent form is inconsistency, having beaten Germany 3-2 in Berlin in November, before losing 6-1 to Austria in March. In this month's friendlies leading up to the Euros, they played to a scoreless draw against Italy in Bologna before falling 2-1 to Poland in Warsaw.

However, Özcan believes that Turkey can give a good account of themselves in the tournament – but only if they are at their best.

"We have a lot of quality, both in defense and in attack," he said. "We have to go into the games completely focused…if you're 2 or 3% off, you could also lose 3-0 to Georgia."

Following Tuesday's match, Turkey also face Portugal and the Czech Republic in Group F.

This article was originally published in German.